Monday, 13 January 2014

Trees, trees....

I am very fond of trees and am not alone in this respect. As the American poet Joyce Kilmer wrote:

                                I think that I shall never see
                                A poem lovely as a tree...

A bit slushy for my liking, but her heart was in the right place. 

Walking with friends near Harlestone a couple of days ago I was stopped in my tracks by some magnificent Sweet Chestnuts on the golf course there. 

Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa,
Harlestone Golf Course,10 January, 2014

There are several of these on the course and I hope they are all subject to a preservation order, not least because these veterans are frequently home to rare invertebrates. (Those in Windsor Great Park are famous in this respect.) The Sweet Chestnut, it should be noted, is not at all related to the Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum. The former is a member of the Oak Family and the latter belongs to the Hippocastanaceae. The fruits may look vaguely similar but are structurally quite different . Neither of the trees is native to Britain.

In the winter months deciduous trees, bereft of their leaves, often give identification problems but, with practice, most can be named. In many cases the bark is a giveaway but some have a characteristic shape, none more so than the Lombardy Poplar.

Lombardy Poplars on the edge of Byfield
 Playing Fields .13 January, 2014 

The Lombardy Poplar, unmistakable with its tall, columnar habit is not a species in its own right but is a fastigiate form of the Black Poplar, Populus nigra. The native Black Poplar is now quite a scarce tree in the wild but insects such as the Poplar Hawk Moth are quite happy to accept the Lombardy Poplar, as are several other species of moth, bug, beetle and so on. In short, it is a spiffing tree in wildlife terms.

However, as I pointed out in my last blog, it is evergreen trees which come to the fore in winter months. Some are beautiful, some are bizarre. Which brings me to the Monkey-puzzle, Araucaria araucana. The family to which it belongs, the Araucariaceae, is quite a small one and is confined to the southern hemisphere. Most people visiting resorts in southern Europe will be familiar with a close relative of the Monkey-puzzle, the Norfolk Island Pine. This is altogether, imo, a more attractive tree but is not hardy enough to cope with the British climate.

Monkey-puzzle outside The White Horse
Norton, Northants.  12 January 2014

Cone of the Monkey-puzzle

The Monkey-puzzle only occasionally produces seeds in Britain and is thus rarely self-sown. The seeds are edible but I have never seen them for sale. As far as I am aware it does not attract any insects and so gets the thumbs-down from me, but it is undeniably a conversation-piece.

Scots Pines I mentioned in my last blog, but a close relative, The Norway Spruce, Picea abies, also deserves consideration. My neighbours, John and Jill Russell, have a fine specimen in their garden.
Norway Spruce in a Byfield garden

It is not a native of Britain, but perhaps we should regard it as an honorary native as it was certainly present in the last (Ipswichian) interglacial, the pollen frequently being found in deposits from the period. Several interesting insects are associated with the tree but some accidentally introduced species pose a serious threat to this and other conifers. The Great Spruce Bark Beetle, Dendroctonus micans and the Western Conifer Seed Bug Leptoglossus occidentalis are cases in point. With several spruces and pines present in the pocket park I ought to keep an eye open for these invaders. (Another issue for the Daily Mail to investigate: "Immigrant Bugs cause crisis in British forestry") 

Norway Spruce in Byfield Pocket Park
13 January, 2014

Pine (left) and Spruce (right) cones.
Byfield Pocket Park 13 January, 2014

Most conifers can be identified via their cones. The photograph shows Scots Pine on the left and Norway Spruce on the right. Both are very acceptable to Grey Squirrels and in the past I have visited conifer plantations where intact cones were hard to find.

Western Red Cedar in Byfield
Churchyard.  13 January, 2014

Our churchyard contains a handful of Western Red Cedars. These trees are rather sombre but undeniably handsome. Given a large enough garden I would be tempted to plant one - but they need lots of space. (A houseowner in Becketts Close, here in Byfield, has planted a Monkey-puzzle in the rather small front garden. In a few years....)

The attractive, rather glossy foliage of Western
Red Cedar. Byfield Churchyard. 13 January, 2014

The Western Red Cedar, Thuya plicata, has a slightly weeping habit, adding to its appeal as silvan eye-candy. The plicate (folded or plaited) leaves which give the tree its specific name are rather glossy and had a beautiful sheen in today's bright winter sun.

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